The unstoppable force that is Donnie Yen has been churning out a heft of films in the past decade and there are no signs of slowing down. Closing 2019 saw the release of the “Final” chapter in the Ip Man saga, Ip Man 4 The Finale and now we have Enter the Fat Dragon opening 2020 to coincide with the Chinese New Year festivities.
Enter the Fat Dragon sees Yen donning the fat suit and is a loose remake of the Sammo Hung film of the same name. While Sammo Hung’s 1978 Enter the Fat Dragon was endearing because girth is Sammo Hung’s trait, with Yen’s fat suit it’s more like a gimmick and a marketing ploy rather than any genuine reason for Yen to have those extra pounds.
Fallon Zhu (Donnie Yen) is a police officer who has an obsession with saving people and it has become a problem with his fiancé Chole (Niki Chow). While at a bank Fallon witnesses a robbery, his hero antics means that he pursues the assailants and ends there thieving days by accidentally crashing into a police station.
His antics results in his demotion to the evidence room and his fiancé leaving him. His days in the evidence room results in Fallon putting on 200 plus pounds due to obsessive snacking. One day his good friend and former colleague Shing (Louis Cheung) offers him a chance of redemption which involves extraditing a Japanese Porn director / fugitive Yuji to Tokyo, Japan.
In Japan Fallon hands Yuji to Japanese Inspector Endo (Naoto Takenaka) and their translator (Jessica Jann) but the fugitive escapes and this results in Fallon staying in Japan to recover Yuji (Hiro Hayama). With the aid of former Hong Kong police officer Thor (Wong Jing) now a restaurant owner in Japan, they uncover a narcotics ring lead by Shimakura (Tetsuya Watanabe). Embroiled in all this is Fallon’s poor ex-girlfriend Chole.
Making his directional debut is a long time Donnie Yen choreographer Kenji Tanigaki whose resume of stunts is impressive but oddly enough with Enter the Fat Dragon, it feels more a product of the films co-director Aman Cheung (Body Weapon, Fist Power, From Vegas to Macau 2) and writer Wong Jing.
Dialogue is a typical Wong Jing mockery, toilet humor, male nudity, and offbeat romance. The plot is pretty straight forward and surprising tonally consistent which is not always the case with Wong Jing.
The comedy depends on how much you can stomach Wong Jing’s writing ability and there are more misses than hits, even during a death there is an off remark joke thrown in. A notable scene is a parody of the iconic alleyway fight in SPL and a flashback reference to Flashpoint yet it also seems ironic that these were days that Yen shined.
It’s weird to comment on a Wong Jing film about logic but Enter the Fat Dragon makes little sense, Niki Chow’s role as a small-time actress for some reason attracts the admiration of the criminal grandfather and she is recruited to attend their promotions in Japan and coincidence would have it everyone crosses paths.
The film spends an awful lot of effort in drilling the idea of Yen being a hindrance and everyone is screaming at him that he is not needed or that even without him the world would continue, even his fellow officers scream the same thing. Kenji’s signature is evident in the fight scenes, where shots are wide and edited with great coherency.
Along with Kenji Tanigaki fights are choreographed by regular Yen cohorts Yan Hua and Yu Kang, who has worked with Yen on Iceman 3D, Wu Xia, Kung Fu Jungle and Special ID. With Enter the Fat Dragon fat Yen does not lend itself to anything unique with fights being a pretty regular Yen affair. Yen utilizes his trademark kicks and grapples as well as a host of legs around necks maneuverers.
The opening is a bank robbery that transitions to Yen in pursuit of the robbers getaway van and then a fight within the vehicle. It’s a brief fight between Yen and Yan Hua but it favors comedy more than action.
Around the 40 minute mark, Yen takes on a group of black-suited Yakuzas which is short and has some moments of classic Yen punching and kicking combinations but soon it resorts to him evading his attackers by running away and parkouring himself to safety.
The midway mark Yen teams up with Wong Jing in a fish market brawl but the fight is constantly interrupted by Wong Jing’s antics. Nearing the end Yen takes on a group of henchmen that again employs the same punch, kick and parkour tactics, with Yen artfully doubled for the impressive parkour skills.
The finale sees Yen taking on Tetsuya Watanabe who possesses some very impressive kicking skills. The choreography on display is creative but hindered by so many moments of starting and stalling, the fight is constantly interfered with by his girlfriend.
The crescendo sees the fight devolved into a ridiculous showdown on the exterior of a high rise with the fight disturbed by Louis Cheung and Jessica Jann in a horrendous and rather pointless CGI helicopter moment.
The sets and props are not always convincing with an interior of a plane constructed that has too much legroom, a bank looking rather sterile and a police station that is textureless. The constructed Tokyo street is impressive in scale but looks far from authentic and absent of any life, the scarcity of pedestrians and lack of vehicles do not help matters and with a good portion of the film taking place in these barren streets, it feels rather hollow.
Then we have the props that look rather phony, a mid-section dog attack utilizes an obvious fake dog and a giant dead fish that looks rubbery and devoid of any weight. The make-up used on Yen is flattering to the actor, giving Yen immaculate skin but makes the already obvious fat suit more prominent.
Bruce Lee is only referenced fleetingly with no actual purpose other than fan service and the Bruce Lee musical cues are rousing if occasionally repetitive.
Credit to Donnie Yen for constantly reinventing himself and breaking away from his cool stoic persona. Yen seems very invested in the character and provides his best moments when he is bantering with Niki Chow but occasionally his fat suit can distract from his performance. Niki Chow has matured from her romantic comedies and TVB days, she is fitting as the controlling and overly obsessive girlfriend, though her and Yen’s romantic chemistry is not strong their comedic timing together is pleasant.
Wong Jing returns in front of the camera with his large man status and comedic beats fitting along with Teresa Mo’s bossy yet jesting antics. Jessica Jann weirdly is given way too much screen time for a non-essential character, her fits of English and Cantonese are rather distracting and her performance feels uncomfortable never quite fitting the comedy she is given.
There is also a wealth of throwaway cameos from the likes of Wong Cho Lam, Anthony Chan Yau, Jerry Lamb, Jim Chim Sui-Man, Lawrence Chou and child martial artist Chaney Lin Qiu Nan who made a brief appearance in Donnie Yen’s Big Brother.
The film has arrived at a time where tensions are high between the Hong Kong Police force and the citizens of Hong Kong, where the film can be seen as a critique of the force with their ineptitude and corruption, whether this is intentional of not its father fitting. The biggest positive is that it is good to see a film in this day and age that does not pander to the Chinese audience.
With all the negatives piled onto Enter the Fat Dragon, it is still a fun film to watch, which does not take itself too seriously and is an inoffensive film with some flourishes of Donnie Yen’s signature skills.